Monday, December 31, 2007

Almost Perfect Christmas (cont'd.)
Disclaimer: The contents of this website are mine personally and do not reflect any position of the U.S. government or the Peace Corps.

Please go down and watch the videos, in the last post first, Ok? There's an order to this but blogger's only letting me post so many videos at a time.

La Multi Ani! Craciun Fercit! (Many Happy Returns!) Merry Christmas!

Here's the family tradition of singing a Christmas Carol in front of the door before we go into the room to see the presents under the Christmas tree.

Sarmale fara carne is cabage rolls with rice and vegetables, bread and samanta. Samanta is sour cream. What else did I eat for Christmas? Lots of cookies, cakes, Schwepps Bitter Lemon, chocolates and chocolate covered pretzels.

Almost Perfect Chirstmas
Disclaimer: The contents of this website are mine personally and do not reflect any position of the U.S. government or the Peace Corps.

As promised, here are the videos of my Christmas in Ocna Mures. Here are Micah and I making the Christmas cookies.

Ok, after giving the matter some more thought I no longer think the Star of David and the Christmas Star are the same star.

Some of the neighborhood kids caroling or - colinda. The caroling tradition varies from village to town, and we were also caroled to by a Romanian praise band from a local church, with a guitar and everything - but for a while it was like every kid suddenly had a job. Caroling for change, cookies and mugs of hot tea. However my hot Christmas tea flavored with oranges, sugar, cinnamon and clove too foriegn and was not appreciated by the Romanian kids.

Saturday, December 22, 2007

It's beginning to look a lot like...something

Disclaimer: The contents of this website are mine personally and do not reflect any position of the U.S. government or the Peace Corps.

This is a post is a combination of thoughts I've had for a while. It took a while for it to look and feel like Christmas here in Romania and I think that's a little strange seeing as how there is no mainstream celebration of Halloween and no Thanksgiving in Romania. Signs of Christmas such as lights and window displays in stores, wreaths and public Christmas trees didn't appear until early December and it was weird forgetting that Christmas was coming - or even weirder knowing Christmas was coming and was being advertised and being celebrated in the U.S. in October and November.

I remember thinking that the first late November sign of Christmas I saw was a car going around town with a speaker attached to its roof playing music. It was a song I recognized and I assumed it was a Christmas song but then I actually stopped and paid attention and realized that was Ode To Joy. Turns out the car was driving around encouraging political support for a candidate in the upcoming election.

But with St. Nicholas day the chocolates, the holly, the evergreen and the real live mistletoe started showing up in stores. The city put up lights and a couple of Christmas trees and I've noticed that I distinctly hear American Christmas carols played on the PA when I'm grocery shopping. Maybe because I don't watch the American tv being subtitled in Romanian - but I haven't noticed if there are Christmas movies, or tv Christmas specials or those heartwarming Seasons Greetings commercials about Peace on Earth goodwill to man brought to you by coca cola. Sarbatori Fericite by the way is Happy Holidays in Romanian.

There are no huge sales, no Black Friday, no shoppers bustling every where with over loaded shopping bags and fewer kids out of their minds with Christmas excitement that I've noticed.
I think it's because, as I said, many kids get their presents on St. Nicholas day and Christmas is a time for food, family, carols and church. I'm looking forward to celebrating with my friend's host family. I've also gotten the idea that like most things Romanians will celebrate Christmas when they get around to it. It will come. No need to rush.

It's interesting because I knew Christmas was a capitalist holiday but I kind of assumed it was everywhere - including Europe, but I'm beginning to learn that few other countries have the emphasis on gifts that you see in the U.S. Romania also has its National Day on December 1st, and today December 22 is the anniversary of the revolution in 1989. At least I'm pretty sure as most cities I've been to have a strada 22 decembrie and in Deva strada 22 decembrie turns into strada primul decembrie. Romanians have that history added on to their celebration of Christmas. Ceaucescu was executed on Christmas morning 1989 and it was widely thought of as a new beginning for the country.

We'll see how this history informs the celebration of Christmas with the Romanian family I'll be visiting. I'm mostly excited for the excuse to celebrate (i.e. feast, song and movie marathon) with friends and to get out of town for a little while. I'm interested and grateful to be welcomed into a Romanian family's celebration of the holiday. But, this being my first Christmas in my entire life I'm away from my family it's also an opportunity for me to step back and look at what Christmas really means to me.

I guess it means the Muppet Christmas Carol. No seriously, I didn't bring this movie with me to Romania and it was only recently (Thursday) I was able to secure a copy to watch on Christmas Day. Until I knew for sure I was going to have it I was anxious and kind of depressed. I remember when this movie came out on video we watched it at my birthday party in 7th grade. The Muppet Christmas Carol has been part of my Christmas tradition since 1992 and keeping this tradition alive was very important to me. Somehow watching the Muppet Christmas Carol makes it more like Christmas - even though in recent years my brother and I, I'm sorry to say invented a Muppet Christmas Carol drinking game. I think we thought we should try to ruin everything good and pure in the world.

It's funny because since I grew up and went to college I wasn't that in to how we carried out family Christmas traditions. I didn't care if we went to church or stayed home and watched Fight Club, if I cooked a turkey or made vegetarian lasagna and samosas, if I was sick or well; not much phased me. Because it was Christmas and I was home where I belonged with my friends and family around me. Now that I'm far away these traditions take on so much more importance.

Like my newly founded tradition of watching the Lord of the Rings Extended Edition Trilogy every year about this time whether it be on Christmas day or New Year's. I finally got to watch the Trilogy again (- it had been far too long) and completed it on my birthday. Again - I was anxious and unhappy at the approach of the holiday until I knew that I could watch these movies again snuggled up with someone I love. Who "gets" it. It seemed right and good because it reminded me of the first time watched extended edition ROTK which was released on my 24th birthday which I watched with The Family all gathered at Andy's apartment in Stevens Point - crying our eyes out so that Chris had to get up and had everyone tissues. Natalie and Brent were even there! This year taking the ring to the Mountain with some different friends was still good because I got to remember past trips to the mountain and that's what makes me feel closer to all those I miss. And until this moment I don't think I've even felt properly grateful I have the opportunity to take part in the film trilogy with a new close friend I didn't know a year ago.

So if you want to call between Christmas and New Year, I might be on a Journey - but I'll be happy to pick up the phone. Or I might be watching the Muppet Christmas Carol once a day for several days straight and I guarantee I'll be singing along!

Speaking of other holiday traditions, though, I "magically acquired" a Christmas album I used to love as a kid. Willie Nelson's Christmas album Pretty Paper. It was the only country album I ever listened to growing up but for some reason when Willie sang it it meant Christmas to me in a way that Bing Crosby or anyone else never did. Listening to this album again now just makes me depressed though and I realize I haven't listened to it - or any country for that matter - since Brokeback Mountain came out. That twangy guitar sound now means something to me that can not be undone and listening to Willie now is like pain itself singing you a lullaby. Very weird.

With all that in mind - tomorrow Bella and I are off to visit a friend for a few days while we celebrate with good friends, good fun and a lot of movies and food! I plan to make little videos on my camera of Christmas 07 in Romania and post them here so you all can feel closer to me if you've not got access to the muppets or 9.9 hours to spare watching Lord of the Rings.

Monday, December 17, 2007

Hyper-sensitive or How I experience culture shock

Disclaimer: The contents of this website are mine personally and do not reflect any position of the U.S. government or the Peace Corps

I've been thinking lately about how crabby I am at some people's comments about culture. I think I've come to realize this has something to do with my experience of culture shock.

They told us in Peace Corps training we would experience culture shock but no one could really explain what that would look like. Some said it would be the day you broke down and cried in the post office because the woman behind the desk was rude to you (or more rude than usual) or a day you were so homesick you couldn't get out bed. A friend of mine who spent three months in Costa Rica said he experienced a culture shock that made him hate Costa Rica because of all the problems in that country and the stress things he saw as "wrong" with the country caused him. (I'm paraphrasing here because he told me this more than four months ago and said he hadn't experienced anything like it in Romania.)

I haven't had any days where I hated Romania. In fact every time I'm asked "Do you like it here in Romania?" I'm able to respond with a heartfelt yes, I like Romania. I think Romania is a country with problems - like every country, but in a lot of ways it is refreshing to get some distance from the USA and all of its problems. I like Romania. So I thought I hadn't really experienced any culture shock. I noticed things that were different, and have always done my best to "roll with it." I have been heard to earnestly exclaim "we're Peace Corps volunteers, we're flexible!" and have mostly given up my American notions of getting things done in a hurry.

Lately I have come to realize that my reaction to other peoples comments about culture is disproportionate to the offense given by the remark. I am hyper-sensitive. It started back in training when friends from home whom I haven't been in touch with for a while made innocent jokes about Romania on my facebook page I became furiously angry at their ignorance*. I know these comments were intended to be funny and that a lot of people in US just don't know anything about Romania-I didn't really know anything about Romania a year ago. I tried to respond in a similarly humorous tone, while setting them straight, but I was still angry. *except for vampire jokes. I don't like the vampire stereotype, but I think vampire jokes are funny.

It even got to the point where I was irritated with people from home who displayed an ignorance about how Peace Corps works. I don't know how I could expect you guys at home to know about that stuff but be assured that if you made an erroneous statement about PC instead of asking a question, I was probably a little irritated with you.

I had a similar experience to this when I was in Mississippi and well meaning friends and family members would congratulate me on volunteering in New Orleans and a fiery venom would burst fourth from my lungs proclaiming I'M NOT IN NEW ORLEANS. I'M IN MISSISSIPPI! GOD! DON'T YOU KNOW THAT MORE THAN NEW ORLEANS WAS HIT BY THE HURRICANE?!!!!

What was that about?

Then I became aware that I am feeling immensely crabby at comments made by other volunteers about Romania. Every time I hear "it's even good by US standards" or "almost as good as in the US" it lights a little flame of anger in my soul. Little things like "fresh honey is one of the best things about Romania" elicits an undeserved response of "Way to reduce an entire culture down to fresh honey!"** in my head. **If you said this, I'm not angry at you, it was just a recent example.

Rarely do I tell other volunteers about their tiny offenses that irk me - unless it's something major that seriously needs to be addressed. And so far I'm glad I haven't brought it up because there are so many little things it seems petty - but maybe if I had I would have realized sooner that my anger is a little intense; that I'm spending an increasing about of time peeved with everyone.

Assumptions that everything is naturally better in the US make me furious. But I don't think the volunteers who make these statements of assumption or bad people, nor are they trying to say the USA is better at everything than Romania. It's just what comes out of your mouth. I guess it's kind of natural with the way we Americans were socialized. I know they don't mean to sound like jerks. I don't even think Romanians think we're as jerky as I do. I'm just tired of comparisons.

It's hard to realize that you're going through culture shock though. It's one of those things that appears to you - perfectly rational and justified. It's kind of like experiencing PMS or being drunk and angry - you think the way you're reacting is totally reasonable. Until you realize it isn't.

I know I'm not innocent of this either. But it's always easier to be upset about what's wrong with everyone else. This weekend I just said to my Romanian co-worker "I don't have one of those round pizza cutters. I should get my mom to send me one" and she said "you know we have those here, in Romania."

And I've been feeling like a jerk for two days. Surely that's not normal. Surely this has something to do with culture shock.

Or maybe I'm just a bitch.

Monday, December 10, 2007

Gender and Development Romania Calendars!
Disclaimer: The contents of this website are mine personally and do not reflect any position of the U.S. government or the Peace Corps.

There is still time to order your 2008 Romania GAD calendar and have it delivered to your door before the New Year! We have only 70 calendars left to sell out a record-breaking printing of 500! You can help us move the last calendars by buying one for yourself or one for your friends or family members. It makes a great Christmas gift for under $20!

Each calendar is $12 US plus $2 shipping from Romania (Just $14!). It features 13 A4 size black and white photographs taken by Peace Corps volunteers in Romania. This year's theme is Tradition in Transition. I have seen this year's calendar and purchased a few myself. They are convieniently sized, professionally printed and have a nail hole to be hung on a wall. They also include the days of the week in English, Romanian and Hungarian!

Proceeds from the calendar sale benefit the Gender and Devlopment committee, a committee of Peace Corps volunteers and Romanians working together on gender equity projects. This year the printing was donated - so 100% of your $12 (because $2 is shipping) will go to help fund projects such as youth development camps, anti-human trafficking projects, domestic voilence awareness campaigns and seminars on women in the media.

How to order? Just send me an email ( including the number of calendars you'd like and who you'd like them sent to (we deliver to friends and neighbors for the same price as to your door!) You can even order six calendars and have 3 sent to your best friend and three to yourself for just $2 shipping per order from Romania! Or if my checking my email 45 times an hour isn't reliable enough for you, you can send an email directly to Monica ( with the same information.

How to pay? When you send me an email I will click reply and send you a convieneint address in the USA to which you can mail a check. It's that simple!

Don't have any money? I believe we'll continue selling the calendars until we run out so (don't tell anyone I told you this) but I think if you don't put your check in the mail until early January it'd be OK. You can also check in with me in late Jan, early Feb when you break down and realize your 2007 calendar isn't going to get you through 2008, or just keep us in mind for next year!

Sunday, December 09, 2007

Disclaimer: The contents of this website are mine personally and do not reflect any position of the U.S. government or the Peace Corps.

I woke up this morning to a dark gray sky and little light in my room although it was almost nine o'clock. I thought, Oh if it's going to be this dark out all day why even get out of bed? But I did, and now I have a pale blue sky and some sunlight coming in through the windows. Enough that I don't yet have to turn the lights on. When evening comes I'll probably turn on the lights and light the candles I bought yesterday. Winter is the time of year when I enjoy having some candles going. It's cheering.

While feeling thankful for the sunlight I remembered my dream last night. I dreamt I was back in high school choir and the director was passing out the music for the holiday concert and I was begging him to sing the Hanukkah song we sang in fourth grade. I still remember that song though i don't remember any other specific song from that concert n fourth grade - we probably sang Jingle Bells and We Wish You a Merry Christmas but I can't be sure. I just remember the Hanukkah song was my favorite song that year, but I didn't know until my dream the other night that I remembered all the words.

It's a beautiful song about remembering and honoring, and about a miracle and tradition. It's probably not a traditional song - someone probably wrote it so fourth graders could sing it at holiday concerts, but it made an impression on me all the same. (I considered posting the words here but this is too long so if you want to know them you should email me.)

Two years ago I was introduced to the notion that Hanukkah is part of Christian tradition because the early Christians were Jewish. Old testament traditions are part of Christian history and heritage. I really liked that idea of emphasizing the connection between the old traditions and the new, of honoring the ancestors. It's much more appealing that the us vs. them take on it and people (please!) feeling persecuted by the phrase "Happy Holidays" - which by the way includes Thanksgiving and New Year.

Is there anything stopping someone who is not of Christian faith from finding the Hallieujah Chorus beautiful? Or even from singing "We Wish You a Merry Christmas" with vigor if Christmas isn't something they themselves celbrate? No. And there's nothing stopping Christians from seeing the beauty of Hanukkah, the Celebration of Lights. But more than that in this dark time of the year I want to join in the celebration and remember and honor the traditions of long ago before Jesus was born. Thinking about the world Jesus was born into, thinking about light in a time of darkness, thinking about miracles and traditons all comes together in what the holiday season really means: hope.

Recently a friend of mine said on her blog that Mitt Romney made a speech where he said only someone who believes in Jesus is qualified to be President. I, of course, know nothing of this because with no Daily Show, I get no news.(The Daily show itself could be back on for weeks before I'd even know about it) But maybe what Romney should have said only someone who follows the teachings of Jesus is qualified to be President regardless of what he or she believes.

Is Benjamin Franklin a less valued statesman in American history because he once wrote "As to Jesus of Nazareth, I think the system of morals and his religion as he left them to us are the best the world ever saw or is likely to see, but I have some doubts as to his divinity." ?

In the discussion of a Religious Test one might have to pass to be a contender to the office of the Presidency, I would refer you to the West Wing on this matter, but my friend more rightly linked to her blog President Kennedy making an address in Houston in 1960 when the issue of whether or not a Catholic could govern as President was raised during that election. I would urge you to watch Kennedy's speech as he makes the point that if a good statesman can not be elected because he is Protestant or Catholic or Jewish, than the loss belongs to the entire country; because it is a country of Jews and Catholics an Protestents who expect equal and fair treatment from their government, the government of a free country which allows all the freedom to choose their faith or choose not to have faith.

I think when we talk about freedom people are too quick to become selfish about MY freedom. MY FREEDOM to hear people say Merry Christmas when I go to Wal-Mart and not to have to hear something else. MY FREEDOM to celebrate Christmas. But the freedom to celebrate Christmas or not celebrate it is also the freedom to hear songs about other faiths and recognize their beauty. Because you have the FREEDOM to choose your own faith and decide for yourself. You have the FREEDOM not to be censored in your thoughts or in your appreciations of the music, art and poetry of other faiths.

MY FREEDOM allows me wish you all a Happy Hanukkah whether you celebrate it or not without fear that the religious police will come after me for saying something that doesn't fit with the majority status quo - and what you do with my earnest good wishes for miracles and tradition and light in your life - is up to you.

I wish you all light in this season of the year. I wish you hope and success in the new year. I wish you love and happiness and family and friends to celebrate life with - however you choose to celebrate it. And I wish you the continued freedom to find faith and beauty where ever you find it.

And my hope is that in 2008 more people will be willing to freely come together as brothers and sisters of many faiths and celebrate light.

Thursday, December 06, 2007

Pictures from the train window continued: Calan
Disclaimer: The contents of this website are mine personally and do not reflect any position of the U.S. government or the Peace Corps.

I took this video out the window of the train and you're just going to have to read what I have to say about this video because originally it was 185 MG of countryside between the train station and the factory with explanation and Romanians speaking in the background.I had to edit it down to 99 because 100 is all blogger and youtube can handle. And apparently blogger can't handle it.

This is video of the factory in the town of Calan. When I visit my friends south of me in Baru Mare or in Petrosani this is the train I take and it goes through the abandoned factory. The factory is on both sides of the tracks. I've also been in a car that drove through Calan and let me tell you the abandoned factory on both sides of the road is an experience. I must say looking out train windows in Romania you see an abandoned factory like this every so often but this is the biggest one I've seen. It also extends back away from the tracks quite a bit.

I don't know what used to be made in this factory. I don't know how many people live in Calan, but these are things that I'm going to try to learn. I don't know if anything is being done with this abandoned factory but I have a feeling it's beyond any Peace Corps volunteer to do a project about it.

Happy St. Nicholas day!
Disclaimer: The contents of this website are mine personally and do not reflect any position of the U.S. government or the Peace Corps.
Today is St. Nicholas day. The day when Romanian children wake up, run to their shoes and open their presents, and then go to school. I imagine however, since it's not a National holiday and people still go to school and work, that the school day is probably mostly St. Nicholas day parties.

As I understand it Christmas eve and Christmas day in Romania are more about feasting, drinking, singing and going to church with your family and the majority of gift giving happens on St. Nicholas day.

I decided to celebrate St.Nicholas Day (why not) by buying myself some chocolate. And oranges. When I was a kid we always got oranges and Hersheys kisses and sometimes dimes in our shoes. I think we celebrated this holiday to calm us down in the run up to Christmas - the time when everyone under 10 is out of their mind with excitement. I'm not out of my mind with excitement about Christmas, but there are things I'm looking foward to and I thought it would be nice to treat myself today.
Well a little treat turned quite extravagant because I don't usually eat lunch. But I decided to celebrate my birthday a little early and buy myself my new favorite cheese spread which is a little like cream cheese with garlic and herbs and dark bread.

I got up early to go to the piata to buy oranges and collect a package of treats sent to me from Hawaii! Better than anything I could find in my shoe, I get the taste of something new, reminders of loved ones far away and favorite tea! On the way I ran into my neighbor and wished her a happy St. Nicholas day. On the way I home I decided I would give her half my oranges later. Then I went to the store for chocolate and Schwepp's Bitter lemon (my new addiction) and stopped by my office to share the experience of Stash Chai Tea. There was only one person at the office but St. Nicholas had left little gift bags for everyone with chocolate Santas. Interestingly, he left a little bag of chocolate for me there, too!

Then I came home to light a big stick of cinnamon incense and induldge in cheese, bread, an orange and a banana, chocolate, Schwepps and tea. All for me! It's nice to have a special treat for yourself every once in a while. Thank you St. Nicholas!

Oh, an my neighbor thought oranges on St.Nicholas day was strange until I told her it's what I always found in my shoe. She responded by knocking on my door and presenting me with - more chocolate!

Tuesday, December 04, 2007

Pictures from the train window
Disclaimer: The contents of this website are mine personally and do not reflect any position of the U.S. government or the Peace Corps.

Here are two different journeys, one I've taken twice now and maybe not again, the other I take every time I visit three friends to the south of me. First here are the pictures of the beautiful Transylvanian scenery between me and Miercurea Cuic to the northeast of me. It's a seven hour train ride one way. Miercurea Cuic is supposed to be the coldest city in Romania and when I was there in the begining of November it was cold and snowing, but now that I went again on Nov.30 it's not so cold. In between here an Miercrea Cuic is a scenic country side with lots of quaint houses set beautifully against the snow covered hills and my photography out of the train window doesn't do it justice.